Microsoft Surface: my attempt to cut through the hype

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Over the last 24 hours, I’ve watched the hype build about Microsoft’s mysterious mystery event (thank goodness I missed the build-up last week as I was still on holiday in France…), watched the news break, and watched everyone either go ooooh, ahhhh, or hrmmm…

I couldn’t stand it any more and decided that I too should weigh in with my comments on some of the comments I’ve seen about Microsoft Surface. I may even come back and add to this list over the next few days:

  • Microsoft is too late to the tablet game: Maybe they are. There’s the iPad, and then there’s… well, no-one really. But there’s still plenty to play for. Maybe back in 2007 someone asked for a tablet and got a table instead? Seriously, the device we previously knew as Surface was rebranded PixelSense last year, but we don’t seem to get the PixelSense screen tech in the Surface tablets.
  • It looks good: it does – really good. But we don’t yet know enough about the Surface hardware – if this is underpowered, or battery life is poor, or the screen is unresponsive, then it will fail, just like all the other iPad wannabes.
  • The keyboard in the cover is a gimmick/great idea/an admission that soft keyboards don’t work: horses for courses, I’d say – there are times when I use my iPad keyboard and times when I elect for a physical version – this way we get both.
  • Microsoft is cutting OEM’s throats? Are they really? My view (personally, not as an employee) is that it’s saying “come on guys, this is what can be done when you put your mind to it – stop letting Apple run away with the tablet market and design something that’s just as good, now that we have (finally) got an operating system (nearly) ready for you”. But there is an issue when (presumably) Microsoft doesn’t charge itself $85 per device for a copy of Windows.
  • This will undermine Ultrabook sales: perhaps it will, but however big the marketing push, they would have been niche anyway. Do IT Managers really have money to spend on “sexy” laptops when functional ones cost half as much? It might have killed off the Windows tablet market though, except that Surface will only be available from Microsoft Stores and online, which limits its availability somewhat, and makes it a consumer-only purchase. OEMs don’t really need to worry too much (sure, PC sales are in decline… but there are many factors behind that and mobile devices have been expected to surpass PC for a while now). And for those of us outside the US… we might not even get a sniff.
  • Ah, so it’s for consumers, so it puts Microsoft back in the game when it comes to consumerisation? Hrm Not really. On BYOD, there seems to be a shift towards choose your own device (CYOD) – i.e. we’ll give you more choice, maybe even let you contribute to have a better device, but it needs to run Windows. CIOs do need to re-architect applications to embrace cloud, mobility, big data and consumerisation – but that’s a big ask and it’s not happening overnight. Until then there’s life in Windows 7 (and 8) for a while. And laptops/tablets are only one side of the story; Microsoft is still struggling for smartphone market share…
  • Two versions of Windows, both on Surface devices, one that runs Windows RT and one for Windows 8 Pro – what gives? On this I agree, it will confuse the market. Maybe the x86 hardware should have been a reference platform for OEMs to sell in the business market, with ARM to consumers?
  • Analysts say… Really. There is some really good insight there, seriously. But now what do CIOs say? How about: where will this help me to deliver business value; what’s the impact on the rest of the IT environment; how can I transition to become a competitive (internal) IT service provider who no longer cares about devices and operating systems? Having said that, I think Forrester’s Sarah Rotman Epps is correct to highlight issues with the way Windows is marketed and sold, and IDC’s Crawford Del Prete (@Craw) is right on the money:
MSFT Surface must win the hearts of consumers before the minds of CIOs. Good start #surface
Crawford Del Prete

For some time now, we (geeks, tech journalists and IT types like me) have lambasted Microsoft for being unimaginative, lacking innovation, and for being late to market. This time they have something bold, exciting and that could really shake up the way that PCs look and feel. They’ve also kept it secret and created a buzz (albeit a little too early, some might say) perhaps a bit like another company that seems to get credit for everything it does…

Let’s give the Surface a chance to get out of the door before we write it off, hey? It could actually be really good.


Now, what are they doing about smartphones?

4 thoughts on “Microsoft Surface: my attempt to cut through the hype

  1. Hmmmm, I don’t know. I think they’ve got another Zune on their hands with their tablet response. I’m distinctly underwhelmed by Windows 8 altogether but oddly looking forward to server 2012 though.

  2. Quite possibly Scott – I understand Zune was quite good but just too late (and too US-only) so it could be a good analogy. All I’m saying is that those who are keen to write this off might do well to wait and see a while…

  3. Hmm. Looks like a brilliant idea, but I’ll be amazed if the performance will be good enough. I’ve had enough bad experiences with Windows on high-powered PCs and laptops to be confident about running it on low-powered kit. If it performs and the battery is good enough I think they’ve got a winner (the Pro version), given that Windows still owns the corporate world and it’ll be able to integrate with Active Directory. If not, then people will still have to purchase laptops and the response to Metro hasn’t been great for non-touch interfaces.

    For me the key issues will be:
    – Speed
    – Battery life
    – Price
    – And it absolutely must be instant-on/off and not need regular reboots

    However the RT version looks like it will be competing directly with the iPad for consumers. As a user of both a Windows laptop (work) and iPad (home) will I recommend friends and family get a Surface with RT for personal use? Unlikely unless they absolutely need Windows applications and can live with the small screen. Otherwise I think Windows is just too bogged down with years of poor user perception which has been blown by the iPad. Most people I know are totally sick of the pathetic performance of their home laptops which grind to a halt after a few months of light use, and everyone I know who’s switched to the iPad (or even Android tabs tbh) will not want to go back to Windows.

    Interesting times ahead…

  4. After yesterday’s Windows Phone 8 announcement, I’ll be surprised if I buy any mobile device running a Windows OS. If I do go down the Surface route, it will be x86, not ARM…

    I think there’s a good chance that the key issues you raised will be common for many, and I can’t believe Microsoft and its partners aren’t working on them – I’d expect the ARM version to hit the bar as it’s a lightweight OS, designed for mobile, but it will be interesting to see what the x86 variant is like – and I’m pretty sure they will be at either end of the Ultrabook price spectrum too (cheap ARM, expensive x86).

    As you say, interesting times ahead…

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